by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
My January article, “God’s Gift of Life and the Tragedy
of Suicide,” received close to 70 e-mail responses. Writers shared experiences
of losing loved ones to suicide and the pain they suffered during that most difficult time.
I was grateful to hear that almost all people received support from friends, relatives
and the Church. I am happy my words affirmed and reaffirmed people’s belief in a
loving, compassionate and merciful God, who understands the circumstances and conditions
of suicide victims.
Some respondents asked whether such a compassionate God could also be
a just God. Those were sincere questions. We hear so much in our theology, preaching and
Scripture about the mercy of God that some wonder at what point God says, “All right,
I’ve had it. I’m tired of all this. Shape up or ship out.” And others
often wonder, “If God is so merciful, does it really matter what we do?” One
writer expressed, “Why do I even have to try to be good if everything is forgiven
in the end anyway?”
First of all, God treats us as the adults that we are. We were made in
God’s own image and likeness with intellect and free will. Now we know from observation
and our own experience that there are no perfect people. Our human nature is wounded and
at times weak and inconsistent. In short, we know we sin. Nevertheless, for people who
have developed fairly normally through life, we know right from wrong rather early on in
our lives, in spite of our woundedness. What this means is that as we grow and mature,
we are more accountable for our actions, good and bad. It’s that simple.
Jesus speaks of that fact in many ways but especially at the Last Judgment
scene in Matthew’s Gospel: “What you did to these the least of my brothers
and sisters, you did to me” (see Mt 25:31-46). And our destiny will depend not just
on Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have a responsibility to live our lives in a
way that makes evident that we are disciples of and believers in Jesus Christeven
if we fail from time to time.
Next, we cannot play games with God. We cannot fool him, only ourselves.
God alone knows the deepest part of our hearts. In the end, we will render an account.
We have been so blessed with the gift of faith: being in the Church that Jesus established
on this earth, having its teachings and guidance in doctrine and morality and knowing how
to nurture a close relationship with God. With all those blessings, we are in a special
way accountable for our responses to those gifts.
For someone to say, “It doesn’t matter what I do, because
God will forgive me,” is like a married person telling his or her spouse the same
thing. That would be absurd. Vows mean fidelity, love, support and care for one’s
family. We know that husbands and wives, priests and nuns are not perfect. But we, who
have the gift of faith, believe in a good and loving God and are called to fidelity to
that faith and to our God.
Also, we must understand that within the idea of accountability there
are degrees of guilt. Society, as well as our faith, operates the same way. Society will
lessen the guilt depending on circumstances surrounding the act (e.g., age, intelligence,
understanding, fear, etc.).
This is what I was referring to when I wrote about suicide. Suicide is
never a morally acceptable act. But the point is that individuals suffering terrible depression
or pain cant fully understand what they do or be completely free in their actions.
God does know those special circumstances. Further, Jesus describes his heavenly Father
as loving and merciful toward them as well as ourselves. Jesus’ whole life was spent
with sinners and outcasts and people who were told that God did not love them. Jesus told
them the oppositethat God does indeed love them.
When we see God face-to-face the moment after our death, the first words
out of our mouths will be, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” Knowing what
we know, how could we ever say, “O Lord, I never thought what I did really mattered
to you.” Indeed, it does matter. If we just gaze upon Jesus hanging on the cross
for us, there is no way we could say, “It doesn’t matter.”
respond to Friar Jacks musings on A
Poem for Holy Week and Easter:
I See His Blood Upon the Rose.
Dear Friends: Heartfelt thanks to all of you who sent e-mail responses
to my column on Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem, “I See His Blood Upon the Rose.” I
received over 15 wonderful responses, many of which had a lot to teach about Joseph Plunkett
and his very moving story. Here is a selection of abbreviated responses from your e-mails:
- “Thank you for an inspirational moment that has captivated my heart, brought
tears to my eyes and will be a treasured keepsake forever.” Linda
- “I’m sure it was a typo, but Joseph Mary Plunkett’s wife was Grace
Gifford, not Clifford.” Anne. (Response from Friar Jack: Thanks,
Anne, for pointing out this error on my part. You motivated me to do a search on Grace
Gifford on Google, and I appreciated the touching details I found there. May others do
- “I first encountered J.M. Plunkett’s poem as the lyrics for a very
moving Lenten carol titled, ‘I See His Blood,’ with music written by
Michael Joncas (who also wrote ‘On Eagle’s Wings’). I’ve always
thought it was one of the most beautiful songs I’ve been blessed to be able to
sing as cantor on Good Friday. I strongly advise anyone who has not heard the song to
look it up! The haunting melody enhances the lovely words.” Renee
- “Are you aware of the song ‘Grace,’ on the Irish Tenors first
CD? It is from 1998, and the song is sung by Anthony Kearns. It is the whole story of
Joseph Plunkett and Grace, whom he married on the day of his execution. It contains the
line, ‘You can see his blood upon the rose.’” Sue
Thanks to all for your kindness and most helpful information!
Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.